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Park Employees 'Get Away' With Breaking Laws At Sacred Monument
The Effigy Mounds National Monument is located in Iowa. Photo by JeromeG

Top officials and employees at the Effigy Mounds National Monument were able to "get away" with breaking laws at the sacred site in Iowa for years, according to the results of an internal review.

In the most egregious case, the superintendent took tribal remains from the facility and kept them hidden in garbage bags in his home for more than two decades. On the eve of his sentencing, for which he faced jail time, he tried to explain his crime by claiming a long-held "devotion" to the Native peoples whose ancestors he stole.

But the incident isn't the only shocking story to emerge from the monument, which is home to hundreds of tribal burial mounds. Employees violated historic preservation and environmental laws by spending $3.4 million on at least 78 projects that affected the very nature of the sensitive site, according to the report.

The projects included an "an extensive system of boardwalks" that went through some of the mounds, the report stated. When tribal leaders and members were finally shown the damage, they were understandably upset.

In an example of illegal construction, a hole was dug into a burial mound at the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. Photo by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

"Tribal representatives were fairly angry about the boardwalks and one even asked why ancient cemeteries should be treated as places to walk your dog," according to a National Park Service memo that was obtained by a watchdog group.

All of the activities in question occurred over a significant period of time. Thomas A. Munson served as superintendent for more than 20 years and the construction activities took place under another superintendent from 1999 through 2010.

Yet in both situations, tribes were kept in the dark. They weren't notified about the missing remains until 2011, long after Munson retired in 1994. They were shown the damage caused by the walkways in 2009, right before construction finally stopped.

"Looking back, everyone is astonished that the incidents at Effigy Mounds National Monument could have happened over the course of so many years," the report stated.

"These incidents were perpetrated by individuals and their guilt falls under the legal arena," it continued. "Pertinent to this report is determining how they were able to get away with it for so long."

An apology signed by Thomas A. Munson, the former superintendent of the Effigy Mounds National Monument who admitted he removed tribal remains from the federal facility.

In Munson's case, he was sentenced to spend 10 consecutive weekends in jail and 12 months of supervised probation and home detention for 12 months. He also offered a written apology to the tribes affiliated with Effigy Mounds.

"Despite being employed to protect the monument and having a responsibility to guard these remains, I knowingly removed these items from the monument and hid them for over twenty years," Munson wrote in a signed statement last month. "By doing so I delayed the repatriation and internment of these people."

Munson's plea agreement called on him to deliver the apology to Indianz.Com, and other sites for publication but his defense team to date has never contacted Indianz.Com -- the statement was instead retrieved through the federal court's online system. His attorneys have never contacted Indianz.Com about a videotaped apology that he promised to make either.

As for the construction, the superintendent who was deemed "primarily responsible" for breaking federal laws was never prosecuted, according to the report. The official was removed from her post in 2010 but no longer works for the government.

In another example of illegal construction, posts were erected in front of a burial site at the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. Photo by National Park Service

By pointing out that both of the superintendents are gone, the National Park Service. has basically "exonerated" itself for the incidents, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Along with Friends of Effigy Mounds, the watchdog group has kept a close eye on the troubling situation at the monument for years, releasing damning documents that the agency at times claims never existed.

"This new report epitomizes what is wrong with the current Park Service leadership, which never takes direct responsibility for screw-ups no matter how flagrant or preventable," Jeff Ruch, the executive director of PEER, said in a press release.

The report, which was completed in April but not made public until this month, makes three overarching recommendations -- including closer consultation and annual meetings with tribes. But it doesn't say what should happen to the illegal construction.

"All the illegally constructed boardwalks, decks, and bridges should be removed and the national monument returned to its original condition prior to this crime spree," said Tim Mason of Friends of Effigy Mounds and a former employee of the facility. "We had a saying: 'Is your heart in the park?’ but this report is not about your heart but covering another piece of the anatomy."

The tribes affiliated with the Effigy Mounds National Monument follow:

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
Flandeau Santee Sioux Tribe
Ho-Chunk Nation
Iowa Tribe of Kansas & Nebraska
Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma
Lower Sioux Indian Community
Omaha Nation
Otoe-Missouria Tribe
Ponca Tribe of Nebraska
Prairie Island Indian Community
Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska
Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma
Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa
Santee Sioux Nation
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Upper Sioux Indian Community
Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska
Yankton Sioux Tribe

National Park Service Report:
Strengthening Cultural Resources Stewardship in the National Park Service: Effigy Mounds National Monument After Action Review (April 2016)

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